Do you read poker books or poker pro blogs? If you do, no doubt you have read about Poker “tells” somewhere. Tells are a popular topic amongst players and are touted as an invaluable tool in the arsenal of a winning player.
But just what is a Tell?
A poker Tell is a consistent habitual action a player makes that can give you insight about their hand. In live (B&M) poker, a player may look away from the board every time they have a big hand; this is a Tell and something you should remember. In live poker, you will see many players trying to hide their eyes with hats or sunglasses. No, they aren’t wearing shades to look cool; this is an attempt by them to hide any Tells they may exhibit with their eyes.
Obviously Tells are much easier to pick up when you have the advantage of looking at your opponents in person, so how do you pick up Tells when playing online? Actually there are several things your opponents may do that exhibit a Tell and here are some to watch out for.
Watch the Chat Box
This is probably the easiest ways to pick up Tells. How much a player chats and what they say can be a good Tell. Many times a chatty player has been drinking and will say so in their chat. As a rule, drinking causes looser play and impaired judgment. If a chatterbox is suddenly quiet and bets big, it usually means they have a big hand.
When a player starts steaming, many times they will whine and rant in the chat box. Watch for this player to start raising a lot and go on tilt. Players who get mad lose their ability to play good, solid poker and often blow off their chips.
Players who show bravado in their chat by bragging or being confident could be bluffing. By trying to make you think they are a great player, they may be trying to scare you out of the pot. One trick this player may try to use is telling you what they have. If a 3 flops, he may say he has pocket 3’s to scare you. Beware though, many times these players are bluffing.
While every online poker site has a preset number of seconds they allow for players to act on their hand, there is also a Time Bank feature. The time bank allows several extra seconds before timing out a player. When a player has times out, they are either declared all-in or their hand is folded, depending upon the game they are playing.
Often how fast or slow a player acts can be a good Tell. A good rule of thumb is: Fast = a weaker hand, Slow = A strong hand. Players with good cards will usually play slower, deciding if they should call or raise. In no-limit, players can take longer to act while deciding how much to raise. Watch the showdown; this is how you will know for sure if the slowpoke had a big hand, then make a note of it! Don’t let a slow internet connection fool you, many players are consistently slow due to a poor connection and this has nothing to do with their cards.
Folding and Calling
This is another easy Tell to pick up. Watch your opponents to see what their fold/call/raise percentage is. Tight players are easy to spot because they rarely play a hand. When you see them come in for a raise, you can bet they have good cards. Pay attention and you can spot the “calling stations,” these players play a high percentage of pots and have poor hand selection. This is the player you can beat if you continue to play a solid game.
One feature common to all online poker sites is the check boxes. These boxes allow players to make their decisions before it is their turn to act. Common choices are: Fold to any bet, Fold, Call, Call Any and Raise. It is easy to spot the players who use check boxes because they play super fast. If you see a player you think uses his check boxes and he raises, consider he has a good hand because he knew he wanted to raise before it was even his turn. This also applies to players who check fast, this usually signals they have a weak hand and won’t call a bet or raise. Players who use check boxes have made up their mind about the action they will take on their hand before it is their turn, which can be another Tell you can pick up on.
Sitting Out and Waiting for the Big Blind
Hold’em or flop games are played with blinds instead of antes. When a player sits down in a flop game, they have a choice to either post the big blind and get a hand, or wait for the big blind. This is another easy Tell situation. If a player posts the big blind immediately, it usually means he/she can’t wait to get in the action and start playing. Watch these players closely as they may just be loose action players. On the other hand, if a player sits out and waits for the big blind to reach them, they may be patient and in no big hurry. Watch out for this player, because he/she is either a tightwad or they have the patience to sit and wait. Either way, they will sit and wait for good hands as well and won’t be throwing a chip party.
Common Tells of Beginners
Players new to poker can be harder to pick up Tells on. Many times their play is so erratic you can’t pin down any one thing they do consistently. One thing most beginners (and some tightwads) do is act on their hand just the opposite of its strength. Simply put they bet their weak hands and check their strong hands. Watching the showdown will tell you if a player is using this move or not, signaling they may be a novice. Don’t confuse this with a check-raise play by a shark!
Tells in Various Games
Picking up Tells can vary by the game you are playing. In Stud game variations where there are four exposed cards, it is easier to weed out the beginners, loose players and rocks. In my favorite game, 7 Card Stud Hi/Lo Split, it is common to see Stud High players trying out the H/L game and they are very easy to spot. These players raise on any pairs and play them strong all the way, no matter what their opponents have showing. This Tells me they have no real grasp of the Hi/Lo concept. I also watch for the Ace players. These are the ones who play or raise with any Ace, no matter what their hole cards are. They especially raise when heads-up against the opener, thinking their Ace will steal the antes. Again, watching the showdown will Tell you how these players play, what kind of hand selection they have and if they are loose or tight.
And, don’t forget, when you notice these Tells, use the notes option so you will remember the next time you face that opponent. With the millions of players you will encounter online, it will be impossible to remember them all without taking notes. Picking up Tells and taking notes won’t guarantee you will be a winner, but it will give you another valuable tool to sharpen your edge.
Now that you know about some common Tells while playing online, it may be time to evaluate your own play. Do you have some of these Tells? If so, practice doing the same thing at the same speed on every hand. Avoid the check boxes and watch what you say in chat. And most importantly, never show your cards! Exposing your cards just gives out “free” information on how you play.
Grab a Chair…see ya there…on PokerStars!
Image from the artistry of Kornél Ravadits